Lebanese juggernaut

IF LEBANON retains any significance in the Arabian political theatre, it is owing to its recurring role as proxy battle field for the wider region’s various vested interests. With the presidential debate still in a logjam, and outgoing President Emile Lahoud set to appoint an interim government headed by the army chief if the election issue is not resolved, paralysed Beirut inches ever closer to breakdown.

The urgency is well reflected in the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s flight to Lebanon as the country descends into its worst violence since the painful years of the ’75-’90 civil war, and it has seen some mess since then too.

At the heart of the intrigues, manipulation, pressure and murders lies the pro or anti Syrian credentials of the president to be, which explains how little influence Damascus has lost despite ending its three-decade-long troop presence in ’05. Lebanon’s power sharing formula – designed to accommodate the country’s unparalleled ethnic, religious and political mix – requires the president to be a Maronite Christian. And with the western backed government and Syria supported opposition having rejected each other’s candidates three times already, it is difficult to see what compromise Ban Ki-moon can engineer as Lahoud’s deadline is but days away.

Even if a momentary settlement can be achieved, there is no precedent to offer reason for lasting optimism. Perhaps the clue lies in the carnage of ’05, when along with former premier Hariri’s assassination also died his somewhat simplistic vision that billions poured into an economic renaissance, reigniting Beirut’s fabled status as the Levantine Switzerland, was enough to finally usher in better times after too long of too much turmoil. Perhaps the greatest service Ban Ki-moon’s visit can do is remind the bickering Lebanese themselves how culpable they remain to foreign interest driven intervention, and how the need for purposeful negotiation was never greater, not even when Lebanese shamelessly shed Lebanese blood in the long years of the civil war.

Until those claiming representation of Lebanon’s diverse ethnic make-up find realisation that in political compromise on everyone’s part lies the only desirable road ahead, Beirut will remain the region’s hot-spot for vested interest politics.

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